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‘Europe is no longer seen as a special subject; it’s now recognised as a cross-cutting issue’ – JUGEND für Europa interviews Professor Andreas Thimmel on the Jean Monnet Chair

JfE: Professor Thimmel, what is the Jean Monnet Chair?

Thimmel: It’s a title awarded by the European Commission for a period of three years to professors at higher education institutions worldwide. It recognises and rewards high-quality teaching and research on European issues. My EU chair focuses on non-formal education and European youth work and youth policy. European youth work refers to services and activities that in the case of Germany are performed in various contexts such as municipal youth work, open youth work, youth associations, organisations run by young people, youth education and youth social work. Youth work is Europe’s response to the politically and economically motivated instrumentalisation of young people and to narrow-minded, nation state-centric trends. Much of my research focuses on international youth work and civic education.

JfE: What has the appointment meant for your work?

Thimmel: First, it’s a sign of appreciation for the themes, issues and groups that my research has focused on for three decades now. So far they have not been given much recognition in research, teaching and politics; I hope that this will change as the Jean Monnet Chair gains a reputation. Thanks to its existence, fundamental historical and sociological aspects of the EU’s political system, child and youth services in Europe, and European youth policy and youth work now feature prominently in the curriculum of TH Köln’s BA Social Work and MA Pedagogy and Management in Social Work programmes. Also, my research on international youth work and European education has received a boost, and I can participate in European networks on youth work research. In all of this, I am backed by the research team on non-formal education at TH Köln and am very capably assisted by the research assistants and MA students of the University’s recently established Jean Monnet Network.

JfE: What exactly does your work consist of?

Thimmel: We are developing and trialling new teaching and learning concepts for higher education on the subject of Europe. For instance, European youth issues are being mainstreamed into existing curricula in the form of introductory lectures on education and social work. Europe is no longer seen as a special subject; it’s now recognised as a cross-cutting issue that is relevant across all the social sciences. Also, European youth work and critical youth citizenship are gaining attention in the German debate around youth policy, youth work and youth social work. Finally, research on youth work and youth policy is taking place in several European countries, the focus of which is not limited to the EU proper, but extends to North Africa, the Global South as well as global issues and challenges. One of our current research topics relates to the postcolonial aspects of Europe’s responsibility for shaping an equitable and sustainable international political order and economic system.

JfE: Are there deficits when it comes to youth work research in Europe?

Thimmel: Germany’s youth work research still does not pay enough attention to the EU’s youth policy activities. Also, we simply don’t know enough about the state of youth work in the various EU Member States – its structures, theories and methods. In connection with Germany’s European Council Presidency in the second half of 2020, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth has pledged to push European youth policy and the European Youth Work Agenda much higher up the agenda, which I very much welcome. I believe this will result in stronger political backing for youth work in Germany and may also lead to more funding for comparative European youth work research. We also need to set up a European research network so that our colleagues across the continent can engage in longer-term research on these issues.

JfE: In your opinion, what are the main youth policy challenges in connection with Germany’s EU Council presidency?

Thimmel: The biggest challenge is to raise public awareness of the fact that youth policy is a policy field in its own right, one in which youth work needs to play a significant role. This needs to happen at all levels of administration – local, regional, national and EU. In both theory and practice, youth work is all about participation, freedom, independence and respect for the interests, needs and concerns of youth people, along with civic education and social responsibility. Germany’s EU Council Presidency can promote this perspective in Germany and across the EU, which would be a valuable contribution towards European and global solidarity. In this context, the 3rd European Youth Work Convention is yet another milestone along the path to achieving more public awareness of European Youth Work.